Over the years kids have become allergic to more and different allergens, but now some doctors believe it could be the parents' fault.
A Johns Hopkins University study links the increase in allergies to over-use of antibacterial soaps and gels. One Greenville doctor said it may be that parents are making sure their babies are too clean.
Three-year-olds at Park Place Children's Center in Greenville learn about acorns by touch. After, the director Cindy Weathers said, they wash their hands with soap and water. Weathers said in order to be licensed as a child care facility the Department of Social Services requires each room to have sinks available. She said there are certain rules when it comes to using liquid soap and disposable paper towels, too.
A new study by Johns Hopkins would likely applaud the hand washing system at Park Place for avoiding antibacterial soaps and gels for the kids. What parents of young kids do at home may be a different story. The could be evident by the amount of children with new and different allergies than before. Weathers said she has 20 kids allergic to 29 different allergens.
Dr. Emmanuel Sarmiento, an allergist at Greenville's Allergic Disease and Asthma Center said he's seen a remarkable increase in allergies among children, and he thinks it's linked to the "hygiene hypothesis," which the Johns Hopkins study supports.
"What we're talking about here is overzealous cleanliness, overuse of hand sanitizer, or overuse of antimicrobial soaps," Sarmiento said. "The lack of exposure [to germs and bacteria] can make your immune system overactive and you'll make or produce a lot of antibodies against the allergens, like the pollen, or food, or let's say, pet danders."
The study took almost 900 kids between 6 and 16 and measured a chemical found in antibacterial soaps in their urine. Researchers discovered that the kids with the higher level of the chemical had more allergies.
Greenville pediatrician, Dr. Justin Moll, is nervous the study may have people questioning their clean habits. He stresses that washing hands with traditional soap and water is safe, effective and necessary to stop from spreading germs that could spread sickness.
The Centers for Disease Control outlines the best time to wash hands without over-doing it. These times include after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, handling pet food or waste, before or after being sick or caring for someone who's sick, and before or after working with or eating food.
Moll and Sarmiento agree that it's important to let kids be kids because the bacterial they touch doing every day things is good for their immune system.
Sarmiento said being "germ free" and using too much antibacterial soap and sanitizer could backfire.
"It's a delicate balance of cleanliness and overusing it and it may cause problem in your immune system," Sarmiento said.
He said allergies can be preventable, but only at a very young age. He said when babies are exposed to germs, their bodies create a protective antibody against them. If kids are not exposed as a baby through the time they're 2 or 3, which means, parents keep them too overly clean, their bodies will switch to create a hyperactive antibody toward those germs. That's what is commonly called allergies.
"If you're born genetically that you are susceptible to be allergic, if you turn the switch, no turning back. Even if you stop cleaning, there's no turning back," Sarmiento explained.
Now it's up to parents and child-care providers like Park Place to keep tabs on the allergy increase. Weathers said her facility is completely nut free for those kids with nut allergies. She said kids there have milk allergies, are allergic to bee stings and other things, so she watches those children and keeps them away from triggers.
Sarmiento said not to believe antibacterials are better and to stick with plain soap and water. He said if kids do have allergies, try to avoid the allergens, but there are also some medications to control allergic reactions. He said if allergies are unavoidable, kids can receive vaccines to strengthen immunity and cure the allergy.
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